Baby Wearing 101: Baby Slings and Baby Carriers Explained

 

babywearing - baby slings, baby wraps, and baby carriers explained
It’s International babywearing week! Baby wearing is a central feature in my parenting style – it allows me to keep my babies close while completing household chores and spending time with my family. To celebrate, I thought I’d go over some of my favorite baby carriers, and how I use them.

Wrap carriers

I first discovered baby wearing as a seven-year-old living in Guatemala, where babies are carried about on their mother’s backs in stunningly beautiful lengths of fabric. Soon my sister and I were searching the house for bits of cloth to carry our babies in. I have yet to master what, from the outside, looks like a very simple back carry, but I do love wrap carriers, which are made of much longer lengths of fabric.
My knit carrier (featured both in the photo above and in the button for this blog hop) is my go-to carrier for little babies, but it works for older babies as well. The top photo of this post features newborn Anna in this wrap; the button photo at the end of this post features an eight-month-old Emma in the same wrap.
 
I love wrap carriers best for little babies because, because they provide complete support and keep your baby up close and secure.

People also make wrap carriers out of woven (non-stretchy) fabric. I’ve never owned one, but I think it would be best for older babies. You can use a woven wrap carrier for both front and back carries, but my kids have never gone for the back carry in this style of carrier.

Slings

Slings come in several varieties – sized, cocoon (also called pouch) style slings and more adjustable ring slings.

Sized sling baby carrier - cocoon / pouch style baby carrier

Right now I’m using the sized sling for Anna that you can see in the photo above. You can tell that she is much less secure in the sling than in the wrap, but it still creates a way for me to carry her about with some extra support. I keep my sized sling in my diaper bag – it’s small enough that it fits easily, and it’s perfect for going from the car to the school to pick up my kids. Pouch-style slings like this come in a huge variety of woven fabrics, and they can look quite elegant – like the one I’m wearing. You can used these slings for a hip carry with older children.

I don’t currently own a ring sling; it’s on my list of things to make. Ring slings are very simple – all you need is rings that are tested to hold your child’s weight, and a length of fabric. Ring slings can do everything a pouch sling can do, but they are more adjustable. The adjustability means they also require more fabric than a sized sling.

Please note that baby slings, especially, can be used incorrectly. Your baby should always be upright – not sideways – and you need to make sure that they can breathe easily. Any babywearing should be a chance for you to be more aware of your baby – not less. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued some helpful guidelines for safely carrying babies in slings, which I recommend reading.

Structured Carriers

I remember carrying my youngest brother and sister in a backpack-style structured carrier in the 1990s. These frame backpacks have mostly been replaced by soft structured carriers – like the ERGO baby carrier, which we own. While I don’t use the ERGO much for little babies, I love soft structured carriers for heavier babies, especially once they are old enough for a back carry. Johnny lived in the ERGO carrier for much of his babyhood, happily observing life from a safe spot. Our ERGO wins points for being the one carrier Mike is happy to use, and I find it to be the most surreptitious-nursing-friendly carrier!

Asian Inspired Baby Carriers

Mei Tai style and other Asian-inspired carriers for me fall somewhere in between soft structured carriers and wrap carriers. I love the carrier below (holding 17-month-old Lily), which is made out of a soft flannel material. I feel that Mei Tai carriers offer more support than a sling (because the weight is distributed across both shoulders and both hips), but a little less support than a good structured carrier. Like a structured carrier, they can be used for front, back, or hip carries, but your baby usually cannot face out. A Mei Tai carrier won’t hold your baby as securely as a wrap, but they are much easier to put on and take off. Made from the right fabric, Mei Tai carriers can look quite elegant.

Mei Tai style carrier

Choosing the Right Baby Carrier

I own all of these carriers. Right now I mostly use the sling and the wrap carrier, but as Anna grows I suspect that I will shift to using the Mei Tai and ERGO more. I find that I come back to my ERGO (for babies four months and up) and wrap (for babies under four months) over and over – so if I could only own one, it would be one of those. The wrap isn’t hard, once you learn how to do it, and the ERGO provides the best weight distribution out of the carriers I have. However, I think that both sling and Mei Tai carriers look more elegant, and they also take up less space in a diaper bag – and beautiful, affordable handmade versions of both can be found on Etsy.

So, to summarize, here are the pros and cons of each one, from my point of view:

  • Wrap
    • Pros: Great support for mom AND baby, versatile once you get the hang of wrapping. Can look elegant with the right fabric. Baby is held very securely.
    • Cons: It’s a lot of fabric, which can make it hard to put on if you’re out and about. And many people are too intimidated by the wrapping to give it a go (it’s really not that hard – remember, I couldn’t master the Guatemalan back carry but I’ve got this down!)
  • Sling
    • Pros: Takes up almost no space in a diaper bag, can look very elegant.
    • Cons: Not the best support since weight is distributed across a single shoulder and the opposing hip, and baby is not held as securely as any of the other carriers.
  • Structured carriers
    • Pros: Great support, dad-friendly, good for surreptitious nursing.
    • Cons: Not ideal for tiny babies, not as elegant as the other three options.
  • Mei Tai
    • Pros: good support, less bulky than a structured carrier, and can look more elegant than a structured carrier.
    • Cons: You lose the padding you get from a structured carrier, and I don’t consider it ideal for tiny babies – although two of my sisters loved using it with their newborns.

afterschool linky


a book full of baby play ideas that will help you enjoy parenting a baby and bond with your baby.

Comments

  1. says

    Just had an epiphany about this after reading Dr. Sears. I think our baby’s nighttime sleep has gotten worse as we’ve been trying to get him more tired in the day. Just as kids resist sleep less with earlier bedtimes, our son isn’t sleeping well at night because he isn’t getting enough sleep during the He was doing fine before, we were just trying to begin some gentle sleep-training. Another instance of trying to fix a problem that didn’t exist I am curiou if this was also your experience.

    • says

      That has definitely been my experience! With my youngest (baby #4) I’ve emphasized making sure she gets the sleep she needs during the day more than with any of the others – and she sleeps awesomely at night. And I’m noticing that the bad nights tend to come after a day when she had her naps disrupted…

      I also had huge success with bedtime after moving it up half an hour. Every time we try to move it later we get the resistance you described when it’s time for bed, even though that seems counter-intuitive since they must be more tired.

  2. Megan says

    i love baby wearing! I’m due in nearly 60 days and cant wait to wear my baby! I especially love the Moby! I got it when my son was nearly 3 months old and i adored it. he was a big baby so i didnt get to wear it as long as i wanted to, but i still wore it for a few months! then wore it with my nephew and friends baby boy! :) i have the maya wrap, which i love when the baby gets older, my oldest daughter fit into it from about 6 months to over 2 years old. i like that it has extra fabric for you to cover while nursing! i was just given the baby hawk and im not sure how that will work with a little tiny one, but we will see! :) thanks for posting this and getting the info about baby wearing out there!! :)

    • says

      It’s always great to hear from another babywearing fan! The Baby Hawk looks like a beautiful carrier – I hope it works out for you! Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy!

  3. natalie says

    I love the moby. I had tiny babies (first was born at 5.1, twins born at 3.6 & 3.7) so it has had a long life for us. Unfortunately between pregnancies I lost it between moves and had to buy another! Another bonus for the moby is thst I am able to carry both boys at once. Weight limit is 35 lbs, so as long as I can comfortably carry both I will! My daughter loved it until about 8 months when she only wanted to explore, but rece tly has seen me use it with the boys (jealous a bit) and has wanted me to use it with her, which is easier than carrying her alone!

Thanks for taking the time to comment!